With pageantry and solemnity, we attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II and the accession of King Charles III. His coronation will take place in a few months but no date has yet been announced. Undoubtedly, it will be a national celebration for those of British descent.
But the current King Charles III is not the first member of the royal family to claim and bear this title. There is another Charles III, whose name is associated with both reverence and tragedy when religion was still a subject of war.
Prince Charles Edward Louis Sylvester Maria Casmir Stuart was born in Rome on December 20, 1720. He was the grandson of King James II and the great-grandson of King Charles I, and he held the position of direct heir to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland.
This Prince Charles drama really begins with his father and grandfather. In 1685, King Charles II died without an heir, leaving the throne to his younger brother, the current King James II. But there was a problem. King James II was the wrong religion. He had converted to Roman Catholicism in his youth, when the State Church of England was Protestant. As king, he was now both head of state and head of the Church of England.
At first, the leaders of Parliament could overlook this messy fact, as his eldest daughter, Mary, was Protestant and married to the heavily Protestant William of Orange. Next in line for the throne was Anne, the king’s youngest child, a Protestant and married to a Lutheran prince. But when his wife, the Queen, died, King James II soon remarried to a Catholic princess of Spain, who in due course became pregnant and gave birth to a son, named Prince James. The royal family was going to be Catholic. It is difficult for many modern readers to realize the horror this has placed in the minds of many Englishmen. Catholicism was the religion of France, Spain, Ireland and the Holy Roman Empire, all enemies of England.
Acting in secret, the leaders of Parliament quietly wrote to Princess Mary and invited her to her home for a little chat and suggested that her husband William bring a lot of troops with him. The royal couple landed in northern England in 1688 and made a very indirect route to London, stopping for tea with various English nobles and Anglican bishops. Before long, the royal couple had amassed considerable strength, with Princess Anne defecting to join them, an act she never forgave herself. King James woke up to find his palace empty and the army gone. He fled to France with his wife and child, where they took refuge with King Louis XIV. Parliament declared that King James had de facto abdicated and so they offered the throne to the couple from Holland, who became William II and Mary II.
For traditional monarchists, who had been taught that the king ruled by divine right, this was a bit of a problem. Fire a king like a wandering servant and hire another? Supporters of the ousted branch of the royal family became known as Jacobites, after the Latin name for King James.
King James’ son reached adulthood and on his father’s death declared himself to be King James III, and was recognized as such by the Pope and a number of Catholic princes. This heir knew that Queen Mary and her successor Queen Anne had no surviving children and he mistakenly assumed that he would be invited to come reign. Additionally, he had two sons, Charles and Henry.
To prevent the coming to power of a Catholic monarch, Parliament passed a law declaring that all Roman Catholics were excluded from the throne. They dissolved the crowns and nations of England and Scotland and created a new country, Great Britain. Moreover, the throne was offered to the Protestant house of Hanover and to the person of King George I, who did not speak a word of English, upon the death of Queen Anne. “German George” was made king and “James III” found himself in the cold.
There were several Jacobite rebellions, which were quickly put down. The biggest of these took place in 1745, when young Prince Charles was declared regent of the kingdoms by his exiled father. He landed in Scotland to rally the clams of the Highlands, most of whom were still Catholic. The Jacobite general Lord George Murray defeated the British at Preston Pans and Falkirk and they marched to Edinburg, the ancient seat of Scottish kings. But contrary to his popularity in the Highlands, the Scottish Lowlanders and Presbyterian Kirk’s ministers gave him a rather cold reception.
The prince marched south and reached Derby, just 60 miles from London. This led to a tough decision which erupted into a fierce row within the Jacobite Royal Council. London was a city of over 600,000 people and how could an army of only 9,000 men subdue it? Moreover, the French fleet and the invading army promised to Charles did not arrive. The English peasantry failed to rise for the Jacobites.
Overriding Lord Murray, Charles ordered a tactical retreat, which gave the British army time to regroup and attack. The Jacobite rebels fled to Scotland, where they made a last stand on Culloden Moor in April 1746. There they were massacred, the wounded Scots bayoneted, the prisoners executed for treason, and the royal army chased all the men who had opposed. them and killed them. They then spent the next few years burning, looting, raping and killing epic numbers of Scots. Prince Charles fled for his life and arrived in France with a £30,000 prize on his head.
The exile James III died in 1766 and his son was declared King Charles III by the Jacobites. But at this point, many monarchs in Europe wanted favorable trade deals with the new Britain and refused to recognize the “king”, nor the pope. The self-styled Charles III wandered various royal courts seeking help and troops for an invasion, which were never given. He went through a series of mistresses and a wife, all of whom left him because he was becoming increasingly verbally and physically abusive. He took to drinking and became a serious alcoholic, which did not help the Jacobite cause. At one point he went to the French royal court to ask for support, but he was so drunk the talks had to be called off.
King Charles III died of a stroke aged 67 in 1788, and was later buried with his father in the Vatican. Later still the remains of Charles’s younger brother Henry were added, who had entered the ordained service of the Catholic Church. He would later become both bishop and cardinal. Although he styled himself Henry IX, the cardinal made no attempt to regain the lost throne. Charles III and the cardinal died without an heir.
There is a charming but probably apocryphal story that the pope gave exiled Stuart royalty a beautiful funeral, but sent the bill to their relative, King George III. King George is believed to have paid it off, remarking that he was just glad to see the Stuarts finally driven into hiding. For some reason, in 1788, King George III didn’t have time to rebel against the British crown, but that’s another story.
The new King Charles III in 2022 is a direct descendant of “German George” and the Hanoverian royal family.